Since my work had come to an end in Australia while Kate still had several months remaining, it was only fitting that I should head back to Guatemala early to get stuck into the list of boat jobs which we had planned to make time for. After the long flights from Hobart, Tasmania, via the USA to Guatemala, then several hours by road down to the Rio Dulce with several large bags bursting at the seams with boat parts, I was pretty well exhausted on arrival. Add to this the state in which we had left the boat (everything open and airing out to decrease the chances of mould forming) so I decided to rent an air conditioned room ($25/night) for the first few days which happened to be right alongside Aeolus, so was a super convenient place to start unpacking and sorting through those lists.
After settling in and having a look around, I started sorting and stowing the main cabin on board, at least enough to be able to move around the cabin. While away, a bee hive had been established inside the mast head, the yard having attempted removal, including going aloft, but to no avail. They had also twice fumigated (and cleaned up) inside the cabin, as hundreds, perhaps thousands of bees had exited the base of the mast and found themselves trapped inside. So what I saw was a lot of dead bees in cabinets, bilges and hidden spaces, waxy halyards, with sheaves seemingly a little sluggish, plus the sight of bees coming and going from the masthead…. I immediately started my campaign of harassment, slapping and pulling halyards back and forth and banging on the mast repeatedly, over and over, many many times each day. This did seem to have some effect, the visiting bee numbers down to almost zero, but I had to make sure. I felt pretty bad about this next step knowing the importance of bees to our health and well being, but also felt pretty good about having all but harassed the bees into leaving prior to this. I went aloft early one morning with make shift fly screen over my face, long sleeves, gloves and shoes covering my skin, with a big can of exterior insect spray to try to discourage those bees from returning to this nest. Over the following days I emptied 2x cans of automotive degreaser in via the sheaves also, hoping to break down some of the waxy residue inside. The end result was great, no more bees and free running halyards! Other than the bees the boat was in great condition. No cockroaches, no rats, no ants, no mould or mildew, just bees. We have absoloutely no regrets about purchasing that demudifier before we left Aeolus for 12 months.
With the bees under control, it was onto the job list…. first up the dinghy. We bought this dinghy for $1200 with the 15hp outboard included off Craigslist, she was never in great condition as you can imagine for that deal but I had resurrected her once so I was sure I could do it again. Life on the hard is never a whole lot of fun and in the Rio Dulce this also means that you are on the other side of the river from all of the hardware stores, markets, pharmacies and many of the restaurants/bars. Having your own transport helps a bucket load! Of course you can take the long walk, or tuk tuks are available, but we have a dinghy, so I might as well use that. First though I needed to repair a few air leaks so I dragged the dinghy out from under Aeolus, inflated the pontoons and identified a few leaks. There were several found but none bigger than a large needle. In the chandlery at RAM Marine I found some West Marine internal sealant which was certainly not cheap, but promised to be an easy repair and I thought might just do the trick. That afternoon (still on my arrival day!) I used 1/3 of the tube of goo in each of the three pontoons of our dinghy, then re-inflated the tubes. Now the fun began. On a hot and humid day I started to flip the dinghy slowly, over and over and over and over and over…. first off was three or four rolls, then over and over, every half hour for the first three hours. In between the first rolls, I did notice some bubbles of goo escaping via some of the known leaks, but these dried up and stopped leaking within seconds of starting. I can happily say now that after 6 months of use, the tube of goo has been a huge success with us only adding a small amount of air twice in this time, where previously we never left home without the air pump . We decided to splurge and get a cover made for the dinghy. At $400, we are hoping that this should buy us a few more years of life protecting it. It looks quite fancy now but if you take off the cover you can see all her war wounds from her previous life. We don’t feel we need to be so careful with her now either. Lets see how many more years we can get out of her.
The next morning, the yard staff helped me get the dinghy to the river where I fitted the motor, but the first attempts at starting revealed a seized throttle mechanism, the problem turning out to be underneath the flywheel (which I did not have tools to easily remove). Fortunately there is an evinrude/johnson service center next door, so in it went for repair but also a basic service, carby clean and plug check. The following day it was all ready to go and I was back in action, for a few minutes at least… a bit of an investigation into my new problems revealed some cloth fibres in the carby passages from the service, with these cleaned out I was back in action. This time it lasted a few days, but the problems returned again and again and again. I was cursing that I had not done the work myself and had opted to handball a job. Eventually, after replacing fuel lines and repeatedly cleaning the carby the problem got much much worse, to the point where I could only idle, with no power at all above this. Again I stripped the carby, this time finding the culprit – a small piece of cloth had blocked the main inlet to the carby completely, my only thought being that this must have been used to plug the inlet hose or fitting (at the time of the service), but had finally been dislodged and landed across the inlet nozzle where I could easily find and remove it. Since removing that cloth the motor has been running very reliably, the best it ever has!
Canvas Cover/Rain Catcher:
Next on the list was trying to cool the boat down a bit so I was off to Aquamarine Canvas to put a plan in place for a new cover/rain catcher to stretch from the mast back to the cockpit for use in marinas and at anchor. After a couple of modifications to the original design, we have ended up with a great big wide shade sail, with side sections that can be carried down to the lifelines or rolled up for more air and easy access, with the whole area useable for catching rain with funnels built in to run down to our tanks. There are also fixing points at the aft end for our two flexible solar panels, which we relocate to the shade sail if rigging this for any length of time. I never had to top up the tanks with water for the entire 3 months on the hard, the rain catcher worked a treat in a place like Guatemala.
Solar Panels :
We knew prior to this yard period that we were lacking in solar power but this was not really on the list of jobs/upgrades this year. However, it did seem a good time to do it with easy shipping options to the Rio Dulce helping make some of these projects easier that might otherwise have been left for a return to Florida or some other well supplied place. After much research we ended up with a pair of 100W flexible mono crystalline panels from Hamilton Ferris, their package coming complete with mppt controllers, cable, connectors and snap fittings for connecting to canvas. I opted to connect the two existing 80w panels together in series, using one of the new controllers, then the two new panels would connect in series using the second mppt controller. When installing all of this, I discovered that only one of the 80w panels had ever been working at all with one of the cables connected in a blank position on the terminal strip! I was annoyed that I never investigated this more thoroughly earlier, just accepting that the panels were old. Effectively we were going from 80w solar power, to 360w solar power! On top of this, the MPPT controllers are able to work more efficiently than the now redundant PWM controller so we are now faring much better, although we have also learnt a little more about the system. The new controllers also display the current output of the panels, so we are able to monitor this as closely as we choose. The original panels are solid, mounted on an extension frame above the aft part of the bimini, while the flexible panels are mounted on canvas on top of the dodger and the joining panel between dodger and bimini. We have noticed that the new panels, as expected ramp up their output through the morning, holding a peak through midday and into the afternoon then dropping off into the evening. The old panels start out the same, matching the new panels until late morning when their output typically drops from 10-12 amps, right down to 2 or 3 amps. Presumably this is the efficiency dropping off as heat builds up in the panels, so the 2017 upgrade list now has more solar panels on it, although it should be a much more simple job with the cables and infrastructure already installed.
We had decided before even arriving in the Rio Dulce in 2015 that we would be replacing the rigging ourselves and doing this while in the Rio Dulce. Measurements had been made and the cable and fittings ordered via Rigging Only for delivery via freight forwarder to the Rio Dulce. Once these arrived this became the priority job on the extensive list. By this stage we had decided not to lift the mast, but that I would replace the rigging item by item on the hardstand – I used a self climbing device, but with an additional climbing harness and spinnaker halyard (which I would tie off every couple of meters, limiting any possible fall). Leading into this, I had done a lot of reading regarding which type of fittings and cable would be best, in the end settling on sta-lok as I had used them before and stainless cable supplied through Rigging Only as the reputation of this business is second to none regarding the quality control and products used.
I started with the fore stay, which really meant the whole bow area including bob stay, whisker stays and whilst I was there I may as well address the bow sprit and grate varnish, plus a repair to the yankee furler. Prior to lowering I had to raise the furler to access the turnbuckle, but due to a bent sail entry tube I could not lift it, so I cut above and below the bend, which worked perfectly except that I had nicked the one year old forestay cable which would now needed to be replaced too (this had not been budgeted for in the order) bummer! With the help of some yard friends we lowered the forestay and furler assembly, after which I was able to disassemble the furler and remove the cable – on inspection I had in fact damaged the cable so there was no option but to replace it. On the upside, I was able to salvage most of the length for use in other shrouds, meaning that we had enough to do the complete job and I didn’t have to order more cable. I cut a new stay, fitted the lower sta-lok, put the furler back together with a new sail entry tube, fitted all of the foil sections, then fitted the upper sta-lok eye and it was ready to go back up. But there were a few things to do before it would go back up.
I made up the new bob stay and two whisker stays while cleaning, polishing and crack testing the chain plates for all 3, plus a close inspection of the cranse iron. The only significant fault identified was the bolts for the bob stay chain plate had corroded significantly around the threads. I also stripped the bow sprit, dried it out and retreated it, this time with four coats of Cetol “natural teak” and 4 of Cetol clear gloss. This was the first time for us to use Cetol on the boat and I was nervous. I sent the bow sprit grate to a workshop ashore where they coated it with 4 coats of epoxy then 5 of varnish. The different treatments are due to us trying a few different methods to compare longevity and appearance. Finally the bow sprit/fore stay area was complete and I could move on and about 1 full week had gone by at this point. To cut a long story short, I moved on with the backstay (with insulators), sidestays/upper sidestays(x2), upper intermediates(x2), lower intermediates(x4), in total 15 individual cables, with 34 total sta-lok fittings. The only difficulty I came across was the end fittings for the upper spreaders, the aluminium had become so corroded that it had clamped the cable and the securing screws could not be removed – the only simple solution at the time was to cut the cable close to the fittings, punch it out, then clean the corroded metal up in the hole, this was sufficient to easily slide the new cable through and then fit the second sta-lok. I had become quite proficient by the end of the whole project! I did not change the inner forestay nor the intermediate backstays (opposing inner forestay) due to not being 100% certain of the fittings needed, so those will be finished at another time.
Along the way, I did need a little help with a few things, occasionally this became urgent as I was aloft and had forgotten to release a lashing, or dropped a crucial component. Many people offered a hand, but in particular Didier from Rio Rigging, Larry from SV Blue Pearl, John from Aeeshah and Steve of Troubadour, thanks very much to all of these guys who certainly got me out of a pinch many times by loaning tools, equipment or just being there with an extra set of hands.
MF/HF (SSB) installation:
Another item that wasn’t really on the list for this period but jumped up the list when we stumbled across a well priced second hand set while home in Australia. We ended up with an Icom 801e transceiver with Icom AT-141 antenna tuner. I had this tested for function while home and all checked out well, although the tuner was not able to be tested. Cables were assembled and run, the transceiver mounted behind the nav station (also removing many redundant cables and installing a secondary fuse board), tuner in the lazarette, a new nav panel made up with the display flush mounted, then everything connected utilising a Kiss counterpoise instead of the traditional copper earthing strips, finally it was all powered up! Good news, it works, not perfectly, but we are slowly working out the kinks. At the moment, we are able to listen with no problem and transmit to those within a few miles, but the tuner is not tuning the way it should. At this stage I am not sure whether this is due to connections or a problem with the tuner, if I dont have it working properly by the time we visit a place with a reputable technician, then we will have someone go over the system for us. In the mean time, we are happy enough to receive weather forecasts daily via the ssb.
Anchor changes were on the cards, but we were not sure which way to go with this at the time of leaving Aeolus in 2015. Basically, we wanted to move from our 2 CQRs (which fit perfectly up through the bow sprit) to more modern “high holding power” anchors. The problem is that many of these employ a roll bar, which makes housing underneath the bow sprit a difficult situation. The candidates that I came up with were the Rocna Vulcan, Spade and Sarca Excel. As it was, we hoped to get one anchor, but keep the best of the CQRs as a secondary option. I was looking at the Riodulcechisme forum one day when an aluminium spade anchor came up for sale – I checked the sizes and figured this was our solution. Spade assured me that this anchor was the improved model, as early aluminium models suffered corrosion between the aluminium and the lead tip weight. Spade also have a caveat on these anchors not recommending the Aluminium models as a primary anchor. We were pretty settled on this though, with the thought that we would upgrade further when back in the USA. Prior to returning to the boat, I was in Adelaide, South Australia visiting my family when the boat show happened to be on. This is a show mostly of fishing boats and fishing gear, but one stall in particular I found very interesting. The Sarca Anchors stall, where Rex Francis the owner and main man was the man on the ground. This meant I could have all of my questions answered, physically inspect the anchors, feel and see the difference between the sizes and models. I left here with the promise of an email with dimensions and of a better price considering there was no distributor in or near Guatemala. Once back on Aeolus, I made up a cardboard anchor based on the sarca excel #6, which I was then able to fit up as a test (at least this would be close to the actual anchor), it fit very well, so we took the plunge and had an anchor sent from Australia to Guatemala! What we ended up with is a 30kg Sarca Excel #6 on 200’ of 3/8 chain on the stbd side, and an A140 aluminium spade anchor with 30’ of chain, plus 200’ of 3/4 nylon anchor rode to stbd.
With the anchors and chain removed, now was the time to remove the rotten chain locker divider, touch up the coatings and fabricate a new divider. The tricky bit for this job was the detail of the divider, it could not be a permanent fixture, in fact it needs to be removable should we ever need to access the bob stay chain plate bolts as I did during the rigging work. First things first though, I got stuck in with stiff brushes, scrapers and cleaning solutions to remove all of the built up crud and loose paint before sanding all of the surfaces and coating with “bilgekote” – probably not the ideal coating, but it will do for now. I cut the 3 piece divider out of 1/2” black “starboard” this time, where it was previously plywood so it should stand the test of time a bit better. So far so good, it’s looking much better in there now.
Galley Through Hull:
On inspection of all of the through hull fittings, I found one which just refused to budge so I had to remove it. The problem was that we could not budge the thread either to remove the valve so the through hull fitting had to be cut away to access the valve. In the end, I replaced the through hull fitting and valve with new bronze groco fittings. This also led to another problem – the galley sink waste pipes. They were held on by what I assume was 5200, but I had to remove them so that I could access the overboard valve well enough to work on it. Then I tried hard to come up with a better solution. It turns out the size of hole in the sinks used in 1986 in Taiwan for the fit out of Aeolus is simply not available anywhere anymore, no matter how hard I looked. No matter how hard I cleaned those threads, they simply would not hold well enough to seal. In the end admitting defeat, I got out my tube of 5200 and went to work. It ends just how it was when I started the job stuck together with glue…. not ideal but it is certainly doing the job for a much better price than remodelling the galley which is on the wish list one day, mainly new Corian bench tops and now a new sink and fittings.
Vee Berth Cooling:
One problem we have had for a while is cooling down the vee berth. We had a great little caframo fan on the starboard side but nothing else. On those hot nights the lucky sole on the stbd side would be nice and cool, but the poor hot body on the port side would have to sweat it out. Not any more! Now we have a fan on each side of the vee berth, never again will we have to touch one another on those hot tropical nights!
I am not sure how but on return to the boat I could not seem to find a few critical shackles for use in various locations. Now the supply in Rio Dulce is not bad if you want a small sized shackle, but should you want anything larger, in particular a large twist shackle, there is “Carlos the welder”, boaters swap meets or ordering from outside. Not really liking these options it was time to learn. I had been introduced to soft shackles during my Sydney to Hobart experience and love the simplicity, strength and cost saving that they represent (if you make them yourself). So with a good supply of dyneema, some info from www.animatedknots.com and my splicing bag, I set about working this out. I tried a few different types and all were simple enough and very strong, but my favourite for its superior strength and even more simplicity was the “stronger soft shackle”, this one ends up with two legs, with the knot tails tucked back inside the legs. It is not as aesthetically pleasing as some other types but it is super easy to make, super strong and super easy to use.
There were many many other smaller jobs completed, like retrofitting LED lighting wherever possible on board. At this stage we are about 80% LED, the neat thing about the dome light LEDs is that they have a low power red option which is great for night vision. I had also fitted bearings into the davit bushes to help when raising the dinghy, built one good spinnaker pole out of two broken ones we bought second hand, serviced our shaft seal and fitted an additional locking collar to the shaft. I also serviced and removed the paint from our anchor windlass (bringing it back to a bare aluminium finish), fitted spartite epoxy system to the mast/deck penetration and updated all of our electronic charts. A new upgraded refrigeration thermostat was installed, winches serviced, fresh water on deck fitted, generator exhaust through hull was replaced and the vessel earthing system corrected. There was the bottom paint to attend to also after some minor hull repairs to the keel base. We used black coloured Petit Trinidad Pro over the top of Sea Hawk Tropikote. We had intended to use the same paint as previously, however a supplier mix up meant that we would have been waiting several weeks later and that did not suit us at all. We arranged for the yard staff to polish our topsides (very cheap here in Guatemala), while I cleaned up the propeller and changed the anodes. Aeolus was now ready for the water!
Splash time came along and went very smoothly, no leaks and no other problems. Finally, around 15 months after haul out, Aeolus had a wet bottom once again! I did have one little problem when starting the engine with sea water failing to issue from the wet exhaust at all, a quick impeller change and we were back on track.
After a day alongside at RAM Marine I took Aeolus out to anchor with the help of our friend Didier, first settling on the Excel. After taking Didier ashore, I came back to give a big pull back test on this anchor, with it holding securely through 3000rpm on our 50hp Yanmar engine (admittedly, this was in sticky mud). After a couple of days I swapped over to the spade to see how it would fare, with success again under the same conditions. By no means a definitive test, but a good indication for us. I was also trying to get stuck into some more varnish work at this point with some help from a local worker. While I was loving being at anchor out in the cooling breeze, to strip and treat the rubbing strake and lightly sand the cap rails for another few coats of varnish (a lot of which is done from the dinghy) with countless water taxis, motor cruisers and jet skis buzzing past and throwing up frustratingly large wakes, such a normally straight forward task was being dragged out.
So off I went to find a suitable marina. With a lot of very good options in and around Fronteras this was never going to be too difficult. In the end I settled on Catamaran Island Hotel and Marina with relatively few boats (quiet), nice grounds including a swimming pool, bar and restaurant, friendly staff, security, access to the cooling easterly winds and almost no wake from all of the taxis and private motor yachts. Add to all of this they had loads of side tie berths available which is much better for access to a canoe stern vessel, particularly while performing maintenance. So Catamaran Island it was, side tie, few boats meant few distractions, little wake, pool and bar for simple relaxation at the end of the day…..all for the price of $220 for one month.
While at anchor and alongside, the primary job was treating several areas of our teak. The cap rails were still in good condition thanks to our canvas covers so we gave them a light rub back and added another 3 coats of varnish. The cockpit coaming we had left for too long, so we stripped it back to bare timber and coated with 8 coats of Captains varnish. The rubbing strake was a different proposition for us, being there primarily to protect the other surfaces such as hull and cap rail from impact so for this reason we opted to strip it back completely and treat with oil and this would be easy to replenish as needed along the way. In an effort to minimise our maintenance requirement, we chose to look at Cetol (natural teak) for the eye brows, which had suffered badly under the afternoon sun for the past 12 months. The natural teak cetol colour is very close to the varnish which we have already been using. When finished over with 4 coats of cetol clear, the finish is even better and given the suggested benefits of longevity and ease of application, we are hoping that this will prove to be our answer long term on Aeolus. We love her timber, she is so beautiful to us, but there is a A LOT of timber.
Finally, apart from the ongoing cleaning required, it was time to give our new rigging a good tension and tune up. I had arranged for Didier from Rio Rigging to come across and help out with this, just to be sure we were on the right track. We worked together on a hot, still morning to get the rig in order, Didier being an amazing climber with a professional nose for the job of tuning the rig. It was also amazing for me to be able to pick up some tips and to have his feedback regarding the work I had already done on the rig. Finally with the rig secure, I could fit the headsails, our 100% yankee going back up onto its repaired Almasts Reefit roller furler and our brand new yankee cut staysail from Rolly Tasker (via National Sails, Florida) going up on the inner forestay.
It was simply an amazing feeling to be at this point after months of hard work. I thoroughly enjoyed this as an opportunity to get back in tune with the boat after a sometimes stressful year away, also with the amount of amazing new friends who helped me through the many tricky moments and shared many laughs (and beers). In total, I lost around 15kg of weight in this time, mostly due to hard work and sweating it out in the heat and humidity. Kate could not believe that I was still eating, but I am sure the staff of the various local restaurants could all attest to my appetite and beer consumption being totally at normal levels. It was also a great feeling to know that on Kate’s arrival back to Aeolus, the boat was more or less intact and ready to sail whilst she had been away longer in Australia topping up the kitty. With her away working, I was saving loads of money by doing all the work myself so it seemed like a fair deal. Kate did feel bad that she wasn’t there to help but her contract kept being extended and the money was allowing me to do all these upgrades that weren’t really on the “this year list” so it all seemed to work out for the best in the end and I know Aeolus even better than before which is certainly of benefit to us both.
With Kate back with more stuff in her bags for the boat, we had some more sorting to do, a few more small jobs and Kate cleaning what she called the bachelor pad! 2 weeks later it was the end of October and were finally ready for many unknown adventures with Aeolus. The hard work paid off and she has just been devine as we expected. She sure is such a beautiful boat to be on and sail. We hope she appreciates the work we have been doing after a 12 month absence. We felt terrible leaving for her so long and hope we don’t have to go for such a long period again too soon.